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The Wall Street Journal reports that the 2004 deal with Sprint Nextel for cleaning up public safety static is still vastly far from complete: The company agreed to pay up to $4.86b to consolidate its messy Nextel holdings that were interwoven with public safety frequencies; they also got 10 MHz as an incentive. The money was to paid directly to police, fire, emergency, and other public safety entities to get new gear to move from the frequencies that Sprint Nextel would gain, to new, unencumbered ranges. It was a win-win for Nextel and public safety agencies, while other cell companies carped at the low price Nextel managed to agree to.
Any dollar below $4.86b goes to the Treasury; any dollar over is paid by Sprint Nextel. This produced a dilemma. Sprint Nextel has every release to keep costs to $4.86b to the dollar, and they can wrap that in a flag: “Every dollar we spend is a dollar that doesn’t go to the U.S. Treasury,” Lawrence Krevor, Sprint’s senior vice president, government affairs, told the Journal.
However, the cost may be vastly higher than estimated. Sprint Nextel is playing hardball in every negotiation and won’t be nearly complete within the three-year required period, which ends soon. Motorola says it’s shipped 1% of the needed equipment. Sprint Nextel says it’s paid $1.5b of the possible $4.86b. But then the Journal finds stories like the one in Chester County, Penn., where the emergency services director says he’s been working for three years to get the fee set for the preliminary studies for communications upgrades without success. He estimates the final cost could be $18.5m to $150m—for one county in Pennsylvania. They might be atypical, but I doubt it.
Interference persists, and AT&T is demanding action due to their own requirement to investigate (at their own expense) any incidents that occur, even when they are apparently mostly or always due to Nextel’s gear.
Can’t wait for the lawsuits.
Chairman Martin puts proposals for more public safety bandwidth coupled to commercial uses outside of emergencies on the table: There have been generally positive signals towards some of the proposals that would allow a private company to build out national coverage, with priority on a mixed-use band for public safety.
Frontline Wireless pushes hybrid public safety/commercial model for some of 700 MHz: The group, headed by former NTIA and FCC figures, would like to impose a public-safety override requirement on one of the licenses in 700 MHz without devoting the license to public safety. It’s a little tricky to navigate, but there’s 12 MHz already allocated for narrowband voice in 700 MHz to public safety. Frontline wants 10 MHz adjacent to that (the E Block in the auction’s definitions) to be required to have a combined purpose. A bidder who wins the E Block license would have certain access to another 12 MHz that’s currently planned to be allotted to public safety for broadband purposes.
Frontline’s two twists are that the existing auctions could be carried out with this provision overlaid on a license, and that they propose an open access model in which there would be no restriction on the types of devices that would be allowed to be used in that frequency range. The licensee would have to resell access on a wholesale basis, too, making it of greater utility to allow the greatest number of different devices.
Competing plans want half of the 60 MHz scheduled for auction to be set aside for a national public safety network that would be operated by a single private operator, such as Verizon. All the proposals are predicated on the infrastructure cost being borne by private parties, obviating public dollars being spent on the buildout, but forgoing federal receipt of perhaps billions of dollars of spectrum bids.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants 30 MHz more in the upper 700 MHz band reserved for public safety communications: The senator, often involved in net and spectrum issues, said this is the last opportunity to preserve this spectrum for additional public safety purposes. The Public Safety Broadband Trust would reallocate 30 MHz for a national, interoperable public safety network that would be built by the private sector. Verizon and others stand to benefit from the single-operator, private-network provision. Only 24 MHz is currently allocated for public safety in 700 MHz. Additional allocation is in the 4.9 GHz band.
The TIA believes existing allocations are sufficient.